It would have been so easy to skip that section of trail. As far as putting together a “logical” CDT bike route, it made so much sense to drop down to Wisdom from Big Hole Pass. Even going to Chief Joseph was “out of the way” as far as aesthetics go.
But, but, it was CDT that was open to bikes and we had little voices whispering in our ears that the trail on the north side of Chief Joseph was a local favorite and that we should definitely go ride it.
Forget that we knew that there’d be 10 miles of BS trail from Big Hole north, or that it would be 21 miles from Wisdom to Big Hole Pass, or that it would be at least 20 home from Shultz Saddle. Forget that we were working on recovery.
We set an early alarm and were at the Crossing for breakfast right at 7, bikes unloaded, save a day’s worth of food, and ready to roll. The clouds hung low over the surrounding mountains but the chance of rain had diminished significantly. Go time.
Retracing our steps west for four miles on the highway and on to the dirt road that had brought us into Wisdom. We went slowly in the wet dirt, dodging puddles, telling the clouds to go away. It was a wet cold where it doesn’t matter what layers you’re wearing, it’s still not comfortable.
We regained the CDT at the pass. Straight up the hill ATV. Ready, go. It was so nice to ride unloaded. Each pedal stroke brought forward motion, steepies weren’t impossible.
We came upon Unbreakable and NoTrace on the first downhill and stopped and chatted in the cold mist until my body temperature dropped to the point that either movement or a jacket was required. They told us that Marmot and Trail Dog were just an hour ahead.
If the trail would have been fast, we would have caught them sooner, but it was classic MT/ID border trail. Straight up, straight down, straight up, straight down. Hike up, ride most of the way down. The moisture had made the waterbars slick, making for semi-terrifying riding. 10 miles, only 10 miles of BS.
We made it through, counting our blessings of having unloaded bikes, and dumped out on a dirt road that went straight down. Marmot and Trail Dog didn’t stand a chance and we caught them quickly. We hadn’t seen them since Pie Town, NM. They were in good spirits and hiking happy.
Next came Memento, last seen in Pinedale. “I thought you guys would be days ahead,” he said.
“We took some weather breaks.”
All the hikers talked of getting rained and snowed on for days straight from Leodore and were looking forward to hitching into Darby. It sounded miserable.
We ran into Data and Abandoner at the pass, thumbing a ride on the 70 mph highway. Chatting and watching their lack of luck made me really glad that we don’t have to hitchhike off the trail. We wished them luck and continued onto the Chief Joseph XC ski trails.
We wondered about the “local favorite” designation, bumping along on flat XC ski trails. And then things turned good. 6 miles of perfectly built trail, downhill, giggle and smile trail. While we’ve ridden some spectacular trail in the past two weeks, this ranked the highest on the sheer fun factor.
We got to Gibbons Pass at 5:07, our bailout. “It’s nice out, let’s keep going.” The sun had emerged for the first time in days. It’s only 9 miles to Shultz Shoulder, then 20 home, we’ll make it for dinner!
Thru hiker wishful thinking and excellent humor. We hear the PCT is slightly easier overall.
The trail started out well graded, cleared of trees, even though it was going through a giant burn area. We saw a sign: Shultz Shoulder – 11 miles. Ley Map milage estimates…always add 20%. No fear, two hours of riding, 1.5 on the road home, we’ll still make it for dinner and pie.
3 miles in, we hit our first downed tree. Then second, and third, and so on.
“Do we turn back?” I asked. Seven miles ahead, four behind.
“They said it was a local favorite…”
“Might as well keep going. We have food, we have lights.” I gave up on the hope for dinner.
For half a mile, we suffered. Endless trees down, spaced 50 feet apart, that perfect distance that you want to ride…but seems so pointless to ride. It’s got to get better.
We made our way into a live forest eventually and the downed trees lessened, but the rain started. We waited 3 minutes too long to put jackets on, it’s got to pass.
The trail was nice. Gentle grades, lush forest (except where it wasn’t), but when we got the option to skip the last two miles and ride on a road, we took the opportunity.
Based on the troddenness of the trail, hikers make the same choice.
We reached Shultz Saddle 2:45 after we left Gibbons Pass. Whoops? The first sign on the way down was disheartening: Highway 43 – 17 miles. 17 miles?!
Damp from the rain, which had thankfully stopped, we froze descending the 2,000 feet down. The 300 foot climb was a blessing as we lost the last of our light. We sang the rest of the way down the road in the dark. Fun fact: Scott knows all the words to Katy Perry’s California Gurls. It makes for a great bear song.
We eventually reached the highway at mile marker 13. “We’re 12 miles from Chief Joseph Pass,” I pointed out. “And Wisdom is at mile marker 25.” (I was wrong, it’s at 26).
It was a long, 13 miles back to town with a headwind and occasional sprinkles of rain. 88.7 miles. 14.5 hour out. I sort of feel like a truck ran over me this morning.
But it was awesome. It was nice to day ride, It was nice to ride unloaded. It was awesome to do something that we didn’t actually think we’d pull off. It’s good to be able to say definitively that Big Hole Pass is the correct exit for mountain bikes.
Reasonable? No. But when have either of us ever been good at reasonable?
It was good to go on a mini-adventure in the midst of a big one.